Catholic shrines team up to draw pilgrims during pope visit

Published 9:48 am Friday, June 26, 2015

PHILADELPHIA — Four Roman Catholic shrines, including one featuring the glass-enclosed body of a saint wearing his bishop’s vestments and a wax mask so lifelike he appears ready to share a blessing, have joined forces to market themselves to the million-plus visitors expected in Philadelphia to see Pope Francis.

Officials at the national shrines of St. John Neumann, St. Katharine Drexel and St. Rita of Cascia, and the Miraculous Medal shrine, say evangelization is their main goal. But if they can boost gift shop sales, expand mailing lists and create buzz that will keep visitors coming for years to come after the pope’s September visit, that’s good, too.

Pooling their finances, the shrines have created an initial print run of 45,000 brochures. They’ve financed a three-minute commercial running on a local tourism channel and built a new shared website, . They also plan to purchase billboard space and to rent a bus to funnel pilgrims between the three shrines that fall within city limits.

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“We’ve got to have our ‘A’ game,” said A.J. Quay, senior executive director at Miraculous Medal, which is adding daily Masses and pulling in retired priests.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. How many times is the Pope going to come to Philadelphia? The last time was, what? 1979?” Quay asked. “This is like winning the Triple Crown: It doesn’t happen often.”

The four shrines, all under the purview of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, are increasing hours, hosting special events such as concerts and lectures, and scheduling more regular workers as well as volunteers.

Shrines are churches or other sacred places devoted to a certain saint or religious practice, and which attract pilgrims.

“Each of our places and our focuses are different,” said the Rev. Alfred Bradley, director of the St. John Neumann shrine.

At the Neumann shrine, tucked in a commercial area in North Philadelphia, visitors can view the lifelike remains of the saint, who was the fourth bishop of Philadelphia and is credited with expanding the Catholic education system in the U.S.